DOD Helps Afghans Develop Mineral Enterprise

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2011 — A Defense Depart­ment task force work­ing with the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey is mod­ern­iz­ing Afghanistan’s geo­log­i­cal enter­prise so the war-torn nation can stim­u­late inter­na­tion­al invest­ment in its rich deposits of min­er­als, fos­sil fuels and rare-earth ele­ments.

The U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey began geo­phys­i­cal sur­veys in sup­port of Afghanistan’s recon­struc­tion in 2004. In 2006, with fund­ing from the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan, USGS part­nered with the U.S. Naval Research Lab­o­ra­to­ry to con­duct air­borne mag­net­ic, grav­i­ty and pho­to­graph­ic sur­veys of the coun­try between 2006 and 2008.
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The DOD Task Force for Busi­ness and Sta­bil­i­ty Oper­a­tions is pro­vid­ing state-of-the-art equip­ment and, with USGS, train­ing for geo­physi­cists at the Afghanistan Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey so the gov­ern­ment even­tu­al­ly can use mod­ern tools to con­duct and over­see min­er­al explo­ration there.

“We’ve been work­ing with the USGS on this pro­gram since Sep­tem­ber 2009,” Emi­ly Scott, task force direc­tor of nat­ur­al resource devel­op­ment, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

“We just signed anoth­er inter­a­gency agree­ment to con­tin­ue work­ing with the USGS on geo­physics capac­i­ty train­ing for the next fis­cal year,” she added. The fis­cal year ends Sept. 30, 2012.

After sev­er­al months of main­ly class­room train­ing for five Afghan sci­en­tists at the USGS in Den­ver, Colo., Scott said, “this year we will focus on [get­ting the sci­en­tists] out in the field in Afghanistan and col­lect­ing ground geo­physics data with the equip­ment we pur­chased.”

Geo­physics is the study of Earth’s shape, grav­i­ta­tion, mag­net­ism, inter­nal struc­ture, com­po­si­tion and oth­er fea­tures. For the pur­pose of min­ing, geo­physi­cists can fig­ure out what’s in the ground by mea­sur­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of the sur­face mate­r­i­al and the sub­sur­face rocks.

These include the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the sur­face mate­r­i­al and, for sub­sur­face rocks, elec­tri­cal con­duc­tiv­i­ty, tiny vari­a­tions in the earth’s mag­net­ic and grav­i­ty fields, and how dif­fer­ent rocks absorb light, called infrared spec­tral reflectance.

“Each rock has its own char­ac­ter­is­tic den­si­ty,” Dr. Vic­tor F. Lab­son, direc­tor of the USGS Crustal Geo­physics and Geo­chem­istry Sci­ence Cen­ter in Den­ver, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

“By under­stand­ing the den­si­ty dis­tri­b­u­tion and under­stand­ing which rocks have what den­si­ty — and we [know] that from a hun­dred years of lab­o­ra­to­ry mea­sure­ments — we can then dis­cern what sort of rocks are in the sub­sur­face from the grav­i­ty vari­a­tions.”

The same thing is true for mag­net­ics, con­duc­tiv­i­ty and light absorp­tion, he added — each kind of rock responds dif­fer­ent­ly to each mea­sur­ing instru­ment.

These prop­er­ties can be mea­sured on the ground and, since 1943 when mag­net­ic anom­aly detec­tors were used on planes over the ocean to hunt for ene­my sub­marines dur­ing World War II, from the air.

The Afghan geo­physi­cists are being trained in ground geo­physics but the real need is to enable them to work with com­pa­nies that invest in explor­ing Afghan min­er­al deposits and bring in their own con­trac­tors to do the flights and data col­lec­tion.

“There’s a huge com­mer­cial indus­try that sup­ports air­borne geo­physics,” Lab­son said, “So we hope they’ll have the under­stand­ing and the abil­i­ty to write [spec­i­fi­ca­tions for and to mon­i­tor] con­tracts, and then inter­pret the data result­ing from air­borne sur­veys.”

The USGS has just com­plet­ed and pub­lished on its web­site more than 20 high­ly prospec­tive area reports for deposits in Afghanistan that seem to have par­tic­u­lar poten­tial, he said.

“The idea is to help cre­ate a sta­ble econ­o­my, that’s real­ly the under­ly­ing mis­sion of the task force,” Lab­son said.

“Devel­op­ing the resources would be an eco­nom­ic boost,” he added, “but there are a lot of jobs asso­ci­at­ed with it as well.”

Afghanistan’s Min­istry of Mines, sup­port­ed by the task force, made progress on its goals yes­ter­day in Lon­don at an inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence called Mines and Mon­ey.

There, the min­istry opened ten­der process­es, or auc­tions, for explo­ration and lat­er exploita­tion of four project areas with deposits con­tain­ing gold and cop­per.

“Afghanistan is a geo­log­i­cal­ly rich coun­try,” Min­is­ter of Mines Wahidul­lah Shahrani said yes­ter­day in a state­ment. “Assess­ments of only a frac­tion of the country’s land area indi­cate the poten­tial for con­sid­er­able min­er­al resources.”

What this means, Scott explained, “is that inter­na­tion­al investors will com­pete for each deposit for the next year.”

The com­pa­nies will have until March, she added, “to sub­mit what we call their expres­sions of inter­est, at which time we’ll begin qual­i­fy­ing the com­pa­nies and deter­min­ing who’s qual­i­fied to bid. Then they’ll be invit­ed to put bids togeth­er for each deposit.” The four cop­per and gold ten­ders will be mar­ket­ed in par­al­lel, Scott said. A lithi­um deposit in the Her­at province will be mar­ket­ed sep­a­rate­ly.

Of the first four deposits, one is a cop­per deposit in Her­at province called Shai­da, Zarkashan is a cop­per and gold deposit in Ghazni province, Badakhshan is a gold deposit in the country’s north, and Balkhab is a cop­per deposit in Sar-I-Pul and Balkh provinces. “These are explo­ration deposits„” Scott said, “so at this point the com­pa­nies will have to come in and do ground geo­physics, air­borne geo­physics and drilling in order for them to come to a val­ue on the deposit at that lev­el.” She added: “Cop­per and gold deposits of this size tend to be worth bil­lions of dol­lars.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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